Greek seamen were forced back to work yesterday morning after a six-day strike, as the Greek government invoked rarely used emergency powers to end their protest.
The country’s sailors demand back pay for months of unpaid wages, a collective wage agreement and an end to undocumented and uninsured employees.
They also object to government budget cuts as well as a new draft law, which will weaken their union, the Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO).
The draft law, which aims to introduce a new employment contract between ship owners and crew, is met by PNO’s concerns of increased unemployment amongst seafarers.
"The law wipes out the seamen’s profession and all the rules underpinning it," the PNO union said.
The strike, which started last Thursday, had begun causing shortages on grocery shelves, in Greece’s islands, and was hindering agricultural exports to the Balkans and beyond, according to a statement by the Athens Central Vegetable Market Association.
Also, earlier this week, the Chamber of Commerce of the Cyclades Islands Complex warned the strike was preventing treatment of serious medical cases and even blocking the transport of dead bodies for burial.
“We’re not giving into petty politics when shortages abound and public health is at risk,” said Merchant Marine Minister Costas Mousouroulis.
“My door is always open for the seamen so that both sides can engage in constructive dialogue, starting even from today,’’ he added.
Right after the Greek three-party coalition government implemented the civil mobilisation order – the second such order in two weeks – yesterday morning at 6.00 a.m., thousands of demonstrators belonging the Greek Communist Party’s (KKE) Union, PAME, gathered at the port of Pireus.
The protestors marched to the Ministry of Shipping and Maritime Affairs, to support the striking seamen and oppose the order, while PNO announced that the strikes will continue despite the government’s orders.
At the same time, Greece’s two main unions, GSSE and ADEDY, also went on strike in Athens yesterday to declare their solidarity with the seamen.
The strike affected all public services and included a four-hour work stoppage by public transport workers.
Civil mobilisation orders are considered a last-ditch measure in Greece and have been issued only 10 times since the collapse of the country’s military dictatorship in 1974.
Four of them have been issued since the start of Greece’s debt crisis in 2009.
“Democracy is under threat,” said Panayiotis Lafazanis, a member of the left Syriza party, which has openly criticised the previous socialist PASOK government for signing a bailout agreement with the IMF/ECB/EU Troika.
“People are suffering, bleeding, and the government’s claim to austerity isn’t convincing," Lafazanis said.
"The government isn’t playing by the rules of democracy. It’s brandishing a perverse form of democratic dictatorship,” he added.
PNO also accused the government of “unprecedented violence and terrorism” in a statement released yesterday evening, while union-members decided to participate in a general strike, which has been organised by GSEE and ADEDY, for February 20.
The three-party coalition had last used the order – those who defy it risk arrest and jail time of up to five years – to end an eight-day metro workers’ strike in January.
"The government must know that the systematic undermining of union and labour laws violates the country’s constitution and international and European agreements that protect workers’ rights," the civil servants union ADEDY said in a statement.
It described the measure as an "anti-democratic practice of criminalising labour and strike action".
This has been a particularly difficult week for Greece, as the country’s farmers have taken their tractors to the streets since January 25, to protest against new tax regulations and budget cuts.
In their latest wave of protest, Greek farmers once again voiced their anger over lower tax refunds and fuel subsidies, and the increased amount of social security contributions they must pay.
The farmers are also threatening to keep the roads blocked indefinitely, as Greece’s latest austerity package mandates lower tax refunds and fuel subsidies for farmers, and increases the social security contributions they must pay.
"We have no choice but to go on, we’re on the brink of desperation," one farmer told state television NET.
The Greek government is holding talks with the protesters but refuses to budge on any demands that might undermine its deficit cutting efforts, a condition of bailout funds and debt relief from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
As a result, civil unrest is once again in a boiling point, since the sheer volume of contractionary and deflationary measures, as well as political uncertainty, have led to an unprecedented increase in unemployment, now estimated close to 27 per cent.